Christian Through College

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So you'll be heading off to college or university. What an exciting time in life! And yet it can also be a challenging time, especially if you have grown up in a conservative Christian household.

High school probably had its challenges for your Christianity, as you faced pressures to go against your values in matters ranging from drugs to cheating on tests to dating practices. But while living at home, you likely had constant encouragement from your parents to stick with your values.

When you leave home to begin higher education, chances are you will face even greater pressure to step outside the moral boundaries you grew up with. After all, you'll be out on your own.

The rules of your home, though it may be just a small dorm room, will be your rules. And there will be plenty of pressures to "dump" your conservative Christian values and "spread your wings" a bit—be it in how much sleep to get or in issues of sex, alcohol and drug experimentation.

After all, you'll find there are young people who share your pursuit of higher education who have and perhaps are doing all kinds of things that go against your values—and they haven't died! They may even seem to be having a great time. It's quite likely your belief in God (and in His giving us absolute truth for our good) will be challenged often—both in the classroom by instructors and in the dorm and day-to-day life by fellow students.

How will you withstand these pressures? What can you do to "hold the line" in your moral values and be assured you have indeed based your life on solid, logical, valid and rewarding values by believing in God and His truth?

Vertical Thought has published several articles encouraging young people to plan for a successful future by first getting a good education (see "Planning for Life—Part 2" in the April–June 2001 issue, available online). We have also written a lot about higher education in general, and how Christian values are challenged in many colleges (see "Christian Values Under Attack!" and "How Correct Is Political Correctness?" in the July–September 2004 issue).

Now we've asked some of our older readers to share with you how they survived their higher education experiences without losing their Christian beliefs and values. Not everyone experienced the same degree of antagonism to their Christian values—especially those who attended religious or conservative institutions. Others experienced, and learned how to cope with, considerable pressure.

Frank Dunkle earned his M.A. in history at the University of Texas at Tyler and then a Ph.D. in history from Texas A&M. He now works for a humanities council helping educators seeking grants and coordinating public educational programs in the liberal arts fields. He told us he has found many professors and administrators to be much more hostile to and condescending about Christian values than he imagined.

Yet more than a dozen years of college experience taught him that, while professors may be very intelligent in certain areas, they can still be very wrong about other things—often the most important things in life. He explains:

"For example, in studying why the American Colonies won their war for independence, my class read several books, each of which presented different views and explanations. One writer emphasized the military genius of George Washington, another insisted that economic factors were far more important, and still another stressed the intervention of the French navy.

"I realized that I could write a history of the American Revolution, analyzing the same facts as all the other historians, but supporting the thesis that the United States won its independence only because of God's blessing and intervention. Yes, many professors would disagree with my conclusions, but that wouldn't make my work any less valid than all the other scholarly writings out there that are discussed and disputed in academia.

"If you are a Christian going to college, remember that a person can find 'facts' to support any belief one chooses to hold. Faith is a different matter. It originates with God and, while advanced education will never genuinely contradict Christian faith, it can also never be its source."

Cathleen Folker holds an M.S.B.A. from Texas Tech University (1995) and a Ph.D. in business administration from Texas Tech University (1999). She also has experience teaching at seven different institutions of higher education and has found little opposition to her religious beliefs.

Her undergraduate work was done at a religious college, Ambassador University, so her early years in higher education were founded on religious principles. Perhaps that helped her have a more positive view of higher education, as she notes here:

"Perhaps my view is different since most of my higher education was at the graduate, rather than the undergraduate, level. As a new teacher I had no conflict with religion. In my first full-time teaching job we were even required to state on the syllabus that religious reasons for missing class were okay as long as students notified the instructor a couple of weeks prior.

"As a master's student, I found a way to deal with leaving for the Feast of Tabernacles each autumn. I would ask another student in class to copy his or her notes from the days I missed and mail it to me (I gave them a self-addressed envelope containing money to mail it). Then when I returned I would be able to review what I missed prior to attending class again.

"As a doctoral student, I found that my faith was what sustained me during difficult times. God always gave me the help that I needed to keep going, sometimes in unusual ways. One time, a candidate for an open professor position at Texas Tech turned out to be an alum of Ambassador University (where I did my undergraduate studies). We connected and he encouraged me through e-mail to keep going."

Amanda Stiver graduated cum laude in the summer of 2003 from the Robert D. Clark Honors College of the University of Oregon in Eugene, Oregon, with a B.A. in history and a minor in art history.

She described one of her most important lessons as learning that all professors have a bias—usually based in humanism. While they espoused the need for some laws to bring order to society, her professors were often opposed to believing all God's instructions should be followed. Her description of what she often found was "Marxist (communist) teaching."

She has this advice for anyone with a religious background who wants to retain his or her faith while pursuing a higher education:

"It is essential to identify each professor's bias early on, so you will know what kind of filter all the information is coming through and actively counter it in your mind. Set up your own filter, recognizing the true bias and true values that we must have in God's way of life. Be active in your congregation's young adults program. Draw strength from friends who are successfully facing the same challenges.

"Seek the help of your parents, other successful college graduates in your church, your pastor and the Church's publications to help you uproot the bad and absorb the good."

Amanda found that she never had any significant trouble getting off for the biblical Holy Days and the Feast of Tabernacles. She attributed her positive experience to lots of prayer as well as preparation and personal conversations with her professors to let them know as early in the semester as possible exactly which days she would be gone, that she was definitely returning to class after those days and that she wanted any assignments possible in advance to help her keep up with the class. She followed those up with e-mail and face-to-face contact with her professors.

David Mörker had a very positive experience as he earned his master's of business administration with an emphasis in aerospace/aviation management at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. Here are some of his comments:

"My experience at ERAU was incredibly constructive, including my freedom to serve God. As the center of aviation/aerospace education in the United States and across the globe, respect for all individuals representing a vast variety of countries and religions was clearly felt.

"At ERAU, the various religious organizations drew quite a crowd, which can probably be attributed to the university's focus on science, aviation, aerospace, engineering, human factors and management, which tends to draw a more conservative crowd.

"Two elements stand out to me in regard to what we, as individuals, can do to enjoy, benefit and develop our talents to the fullest in an academic setting while maintaining and even strengthening our relationship with our Father in heaven:

"1. Choose a university with a conservative leaning: Regardless of the subjects we plan on studying and embracing, studying at a university with a more conservative approach is not only more receptive to God's way of life, but also serves us better after graduation as part of a constructive alumni network.

"2. Work on your social skills: As children of God, it is imperative that we do not come across as 'holier than thou' as we interact with others. Even though we do not subscribe to and partake in many aspects of extracurricular life, we need to be wise in the way we present ourselves and the way we interact with individuals who do not share the same values."

These are just a few of the readers of Vertical Thought who managed to maintain their Christian beliefs and values as they studied in the world of academia. Some seemed to experience little bias at all. Others experienced a lot. Yet all maintained their beliefs—and you can too! VT